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Everyone’s a Winner…Maybe

I was always vaguely aware as a child that there were “good” schools and “not so good” schools but beyond the blindingly obvious differences, I was largely ignorant to the “Type” of school I attended. There were no banners strung outside the gates or “OUTSTANDING”’s emblazoned under the headteacher’s name. We were relatively untouched by the competitive force of the education system back then.

Of course, that was when all schools were under the control of Local Authorities and postcode catchment areas meant that there was less squabbling over bragging rights. I knew friends who moved house when they reached a specific age but I never knew it was due to school admissions.

OFSTED was a word that we heard in school but it was pretty mysterious. I once heard my year 2 teacher talking about “supply teachers” and was convinced she said “Spy teachers” and that is what I believed OFSTED to be!

We knew we needed to be well-behaved during these visits where serious faced men and women would enter the classroom silently and stand, arms crossed, at the back causing our teachers to stutter, sweat & act strangely. But, I never really knew where these secretive operatives were sending their information back to.

Now we scream the status of our schools for all to hear: an accolade or act of shaming. “Outstanding!!”, “Requires Improvement”…. And these labels stick as firmly as the school logo on a child’s jumper. They know. They understand.

They see the fish market that the education system has become and they know they are the merchandise. Who has the healthiest catch? Who casts the widest net? Who offers the best price? Who guarantees bulk orders?

Since training in the early 2000’s, I have been utterly baffled by the competitive nature of UK education. It makes no sense. Surely we are all better together? Unity? Collaboration? A COLLEGIATE approach?

The politics of which school helps which and who feeds to where has had me scratching my head thinking “shouldn’t ALL schools be fighting for better? TOGETHER?”.

I understand the competition in swimming galas, sports events, etc. It is healthy if managed well. I do not fathom the necessity of making progress in a competition. It seems to defy the whole point of “individual progress”.

Should we not be celebrating each achievement on its own merit rather than holding it aloft for scrutiny and invidious comparison against other achievements? What are we teaching young people about their successes? About their own internal and external validation?

Even in the nuances of Twitter, there is division and contest. Prog/Trad, Left/Right….. Pen licence/No Pen licence.

Yet there is so much more that unites us than divides us. Especially when businesses profiteer from our children’s hard work, politicians use our profession as a scapegoat and the press vilify us with increasing regularity.

Now is not the time to quibble or buy into divisive tactics. Divided we fall.

Let’s set a new motto for every school: “United nos vigemusque” (Together we thrive/are stronger).

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The author

Cate has been a teacher for 20 years. She has worked internationally and across all key stages in the UK. Her secondary specialism is Performing Arts with a keen interest in PSHE/RSE. Cate is recently married with two cats who keep her busy and an allotment that requires more time than she can give it!

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